Review for Two

Review for Two – Empyreal: Spells & Steam

Thank you for checking review #125 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of Empyreal: Spells & Steam

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Empyreal: Spells & Steam is a board game designed by Trey Chambers that is published by Level 99 Games. The box state it plays 2-6 players and has a playtime of 30-75 minutes.

The industrial age has come at last to the World of Indines! Use your ingenuity and the skill of your team of technomancers to cross the continent of Indines while connecting towns and building a vibrant trade network. Research new spells as you carve a path through the many treacherous terrains of the continent, using your company’s unique advantages to outbuild the competition and secure supply lines for rare resources.

In Empyreal: Spells & Steam, technomancers use mana to build rails, and the amount of mana crystals required to cast a spell varies by terrain and by the potency of the spell. Mana crystals must recharge after being used, so your choice of when and where to use each spell will be critical to determining the efficiency of your construction engine.

The towns you choose to connect to your network will provide critical resources, and the value of these resources changes over time. Some become more valuable as they become more connected, while others become less valuable as their abundance increases. Thus, you need to be wary of what your competitors are building into their trade networks and adapt your strategies accordingly to maximize the value of your stock portfolio.

Reaching new cities first gives you additional benefits, and being the first to bridge the continent provides you with a sizable commission from your backers. However, those who build first are more at the mercy of changing markets. Time your construction projects to maximize your profits and the flow of mana.

—description from the publisher

My Thoughts

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 This box and its contents simply scream intentional design. What I mean here is that this game provides a comprehensive package. The components are all great in quality, even with just the retail version of the game. Even more than that, though, is that the game comes with storage items for everything that are both functional for packing the game away and keeping things accessible during the game. A lot of time and effort went into making this game, and it shows from the time you first open up that box.

 Gameplay is extremely simple (and the rules are done rather well!). You either move your conductor pawn and activate train cars at the space it stops, or you Administrate to replenish your supplies and expand your train car choices. Easy. Simple. Most of what you are doing involves placing trains on the map, typically adjacent to trains you already have on the map and going onto the terrain type pictured on the train car being used. There are exceptions, of course, and those are the trickier parts to get the hang of, but by and large this game can be taught in a matter of minutes, dealing with what train cars and specialists do as they are revealed.

 Speaking of which, let’s talk about the elephant in the room for the game: iconography. Sometimes iconography works well and a game is intuitive in how it flows once you understand what you see. Other times you need to have a reference guide at hand at all times in the game to understand what you are looking at. I’ve played games on both ends of the spectrum, and Empyreal: Spells & Steam falls more on the intuitive side. Yes, there are specialists that I still need to look up, but that is one time per game, at the time when considering which to take, and after that I don’t need to look back to remember what they do. The train cars? During the second play I was only looking up a select few to ensure what I thought it “said” was accurate and, in all but one case, I was correct. Some folks have made a big deal over the lack of text on the components, but I have found it to be something more helpful than harmful as the icons can be parsed quickly to see what something does, rather than needing to read text spelling it all out.

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 The game felt like it was sort of on rails during the first play. It felt limiting and restricted to a sheer race of laying down a pattern to connect the most hexes of a color to a specific city for delivery. But as the game hit the table more, I started to see more “advanced” concepts shining through, such as the Transfers, which open up the map faster. After all, your trains don’t need to be connected to be considered “connected”. It’s magic, right? Suddenly the map became more aggressive as you wanted to close in on an opponent, not just to have a chance to steal their goods but to be able to efficiently leapfrog their train and cut down on the number of cars you need to place to reach a specific location. Dropping Wasteland onto the map to clear out goods became a viable strategy. Taking train cars that provided free transfers suddenly felt as powerful, or moreso, than something that might offer a variety of terrain type placements. That isn’t even considering specialists.

 And those specialists are the stars of the show. They are the toppings for the ice cream that makes it feel like you are doing more than just eating vanilla ice cream. They add asymmetry for the players and allow you to break the ordinary rules in ways big and small – depending on the specialist type. Some help you get your own engine running faster or more efficiently, while others might help you to slow down an opponents’ plans. This asymmetry is the heart of Empyreal, and is what sets it apart from the other train-based games in the genre. Not only is it the distinguishing trademark, but it also helps open the door for…

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Near infinite replay value. This is something that seems like a strong point for both the designer and the publisher in question, meaning their pairing is always going to produce something that plays out differently every time it hits the table. With each company having a different player board of train cars, including a special train car on each of them, plus various conductors to mix-and-match would be enough. Shoot, the varied train car abilities would be enough by itself. Then you add in the specialists, with three types and taking one of each type over the course of the game. And the slightly-modular map layout. There is room for small variants, such as having mixed Demand Tiles on the cities or having players be able to draft specialists. All of these combine to provide a very different experience every single time you play the game.

 One of the worst things you can make a player do is to have to turn back to the rulebook mid-game. This is the one aspect where I wish they had included a separate printout for the various items with iconography. Don’t get me wrong, everything is clear as can be in the book. But having a single sheet with the train cars, and then one for each of the three specialist types, would make the process of cross-checking or verifying abilities a little easier.

 Call me crazy, but I almost wish the tiles for the map were smaller, so you could mix-and-match for a greater terrain variety from play-to-play. Yes, sometimes it might mean there is a cluster of 4 Forest areas together relatively close to the Green Town, but that would just mean you need to decide whether or not to try and focus there to be first to deliver that, or perhaps to spoil the opponents’ plans and deliver using 2 of those even faster, or ignore it completely and set up your own engine. I get that the map tiles are probably mostly balanced with the size, but I do wonder how it might change things with smaller tiles…

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 The solo mode is forced inside the expansion. And honestly, having played it via a friend’s copy of the expansion, there is no need for it to be an exclusive piece of the game that costs $40-50 more to obtain. Huge miss for the solo gaming market here, as it is already a costly game. To have to increase that cost by another 50% roughly to play it solo is going to keep others away from what is definitely a fun solitaire experience.

Final Thoughts

This game has been one of the most anticipated games to be released, with it making my list back in 2018 of games I was excited for. I’m an outspoken fan of Level 99 Games as a company, and equally a fan of Trey Chambers as a designer. Everything about Empyreal: Spells & Steam sounded like it would place it squarely within my wheelhouse and, better yet, be one only a few games from Level 99 Games that my wife might be willing to play. It took a long time for this one to deliver its goods, but it finally arrived and we’ve been able to get in some plays of the game (and I’ve even dabbled with the solo mode that comes in the expansion and, well, at some point I’ll be reviewing the expansion and covering that in greater detail but let’s just say I enjoy this one solo as well).

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And this game isn’t what I expected. Not in a bad way, mind you. But when you hear “train game” you either think of Ticket to Ride, or you think of 18XX. I was expecting something about in the middle of those two, but truth be told it is more akin to a fantasy flavor of Age of Steam, a game I played for the first time only weeks before my first plays of Empyreal. And I can’t help but see a lot of great things in both of those games: they support a wide range of player counts, they have built-in variability (AoS with maps, Empyreal with combinations of abilities, train cars, etc.), they involve building routes to deliver goods on the map to locations seeking those goods. And, truth be told, I think both could easily co-exist in my collection. AoS would likely appeal more to my wife and her desire for pick-up-and-deliver games of a moderate weight. Empyreal appeals to me with its asymmetric play and special powers. Neither one is inherently worse, they are just different. Kind of like how I enjoy both brats and hot dogs – one doesn’t replace the other, and there will be times I might want one over the other.

And for me, that game will be Empyreal. It is completely my jam when it comes to games, all fanboy considerations aside. The components, which is nothing more than sheer chrome to me, are absolutely delightful and look wonderful. I have the retail edition and don’t feel like I’m missing anything by not having the Deluxe Upgrade – much like I’m fine playing games with the cardboard money tokens instead of paying extra for metal coins. Empyreal has proven to be a game that opens up with repeated plays, possessing a multitude of strategies to pursue that you only grasp after a few plays and realize the benefit that something like a Wasteland Transfer can provide even at its “high” cost. The game can be as cutthroat or as friendly as you want it to be, especially as certain specialists or train cars enter in the mix. Especially at two players, where there is enough room to kind of spread out in some of the map, although eventually you’re likely to fight over resource tokens on the map.

If you’ve always wanted a game with something a little more than the random route-fulfillment of Ticket to Ride but aren’t entranced with the economic ideas contained within many of the other train games, this might be one to check out. It is a pure route builder, with your routes being represented by trains placed on the map, that is focused on delivering goods in certain quantities to cities demanding said goods. Because it has a strong, narrow focus with relatively fast turns, the gameplay is quick to flow and the player engines (pun intended) accelerate tremendously as the game chugs along. This makes it an easy game to teach, and a relatively fast game to play. I think we clock in at under an hour with two, and with more plays this will probably drop down to around the 20 minutes per player mark for the two of us. It feels like a game I can teach to almost anyone – some won’t be enamoured with the game, but I do believe that most will find enjoyment in the game with its smooth, solid gameplay and player-friendly play time.

This game is one I plan to keep in my collection for a long, long time. It has a very tall box, making it stand out on the shelf, but I forgive that because of the high quality of the storage system that comes with the game. It is nice having a game that can play as few as one (with expansion) and as many as six (with just the base game) or eight (with the two extra factions from the expansion) and isn’t a heavy, or light, game to teach and play. It isn’t often that I find a 2020 release so soon in the year that I fall in love with, but Empyreal: Spells & Steam delivered on everything I hoped it could be. Trey Chambers and the Level 99 Games team did it again here, and even if you haven’t loved any of their other games this one is worth checking out. If my wife can enjoy one of their games, so can you!

Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Exceed Season 3: Street Fighter

Thank you for checking review #103 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of the game was sent in exchange for an honest review.

An overview of Exceed Season 3: Street Fighter

Exceed Fighting System is a board game designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr. that is published by Level 99 Games. The box state it plays 2 players and has a playtime of 15-25 minutes.

EXCEED brings the speed, tactics, and variety of high-stakes fighting action to life. Choose your fighter and enter the arena. There are no packs to open or rares to chase get everything you need to play right here. Bring your best to the battlefield with four new fighters (per box) from STREET FIGHTER.

My Thoughts

 I’ll be among the first to admit that I don’t exactly get excited by Street Fighter as a theme – I played it in my younger years but I am by no means a fan of the series or IP. However, I do have enough character recognition to be able to appreciate how Level 99 Games made these characters retain aspects of those characters and integrate those into the unique cards in each deck and in the player powers. Sure, some aren’t going to scream “This is _____” when you see them, but they did a great job overall of trying to put some consideration into each character and what went into the decks.

 The gameplay is the same outstanding system that has been built upon in the previous seasons of Exceed. It should come as no surprise that it is just as great in these boxes, making this a solid entry into the Exceed line of games and a worthwhile addition to any Exceed collection. The IP makes it a great starting point for new players, while there is enough here to merit picking up even for those who might already have a solid roster of fighters.

 The new Critical mechanic is interesting, as you are forced to spend some of your Gauge to use it – and you must make the decision on using Critical as you set an attack, not when it resolves. This is the same Gauge that you can use to Exceed, or to play your strongest cards in your deck. Which means you need to decide to try and boost your current attack – which may miss or not resolve if you get stunned – or save those resources for something different later. This adds an excellent decision point to the game with one drawback: if one player pulls ahead early, they could spam the Critical on their attacks, because they have the Gauge to spend and could end to a lose-more situation for the other player.

 The characters feel unique. In a beat-em-up game you would expect mostly similar ways to use characters. Maybe one hits hard from a distance while another hits hard up close, right? And there are characters who are basic enough to fit into those categories nicely (making them perfect for learning the game). But then you grab a character like Dan, who is so bizarre in how he wants to be played that he makes you rethink your approach. And then you grab C. Viper next and get blown away by how much she breaks from what you expect a fighting character to operate. I love that you don’t have 12 characters in the season who all just punch and kick with slight variations. If you want to play well, you need to consider the strengths of your character, their weaknesses, and what the opponent’s character is capable of and consider all of that. Which is a lot of great depth in a 20-30 minute dueling game.

 This only gets mentioned because this is a Level 99 Games title, who notoriously use folded sheets for their rulebook – the version I played before this season had that folded sheet as the rules. But here it has a book-style rulebook which is excellent to have in the box and makes a perfect thing to reference.

 The season is spread across three boxes, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because that keeps costs down to purchase a single box – making the entry point appealing for the pricepoint. You get a TON of game for the $25-30 you’d pay for the box. The downside is that there are three of those boxes to purchase if you want the whole season – and with a popular IP like this odds are the characters you want to play as are not all found in a single box. Which means you’re probably spending the $75-90 on the entire season eventually anyway.

 There is no way to count life for the players inside the box, something that might not go over well with newer players. Yes, a pair of d10s per player, or an app on a phone, or even a stack of poker chips can be used. Many gamers have ways of accomplishing this, but it is worth noting that you need a way to track health from 30 down to 0 for each side. Even something as simple as two health cards per player, in the vein of Hero Realms where one has 10’s and the other 1‘s and players manipulate the cards to represent their health would be better than nothing in the box. There is, of course, a playmat you can purchase and it has a spot on each side to track health. But since you already have a 9-card portable “board” to play on, shouldn’t there also be an easy way for this included in the box? Toss 4 cards or 4d10’s in there and this issue is solved.

Final Thoughts

Taking into consideration the fact that I am yet to play Season 2 of Exceed, I will start by saying that this season is the best one that has hit my table. Not only are the characters more universally-recognized than the Red Horizon IP, but the characters in these boxes come alive for the Street Fighter Exceed. There were moments when I would smile at the subtle nods to some aspect of these characters in the game, something I couldn’t enjoy with Season 1 and something that would also be absent from Season 2. If this season of Exceed accomplished nothing else, those character-defining traits would have been enough to bring a popular IP into the game.

However, they also took a solid system and added an interesting new layer of tactical decisions with the Critical mechanic, and it adds so much to the game experience without making things more complicated by extension. This is a solid entry into the Exceed line-up, and is likely to be a best seller for them because of the IP recognition. Gamers who pick up a box of the Street Fighter Exceed series are getting a really solid, replayable, addictive game in the box. It comes with tuckboxes for each character deck already in the box, an added touch that will do right by the customer (and something I wish I had for my BattleCon collection for those older sets).

One of the coolest moments, if you have any base knowledge of Street Fighter, is having those moments where you see a card or ability effect keyed to that specific character and see how appropriate that would be for the character in question. For instance, Vega gets a boost when backed against the edge of the arena – something he very much uses in the video game version of Street Fighter (well, at least the older versions I played). While not every ability can feel completely thematic, they do a good job of making every character stand out as feeling unique even though they all have a foundation of basic cards that are the same.

All in all, the Exceed Fighting System remains among my favorite games to play and I intend on picking up more of this system with Season 2 being highest on my wishlist for the Seventh Cross characters. I’m a huge fan of the 2-player dueling genre of games, and this is one of the best in that category. The elements of luck and (when you want to Wild Swing) chance are balanced properly with a dynamic battling system which flows quickly and does well at keeping both parties engaged. If you haven’t played Exceed yet, this is an excellent entry point into the system. And if you’re a returning fan, there is enough new content in here with that Critical mechanic, along with the playstyle of the characters, to merit adding this to your collection of fighters.

Review for Two

Review for Two – Millennium Blades

Thank you for checking review #84 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An overview of Millennium Blades

Millennium Blades is a board game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. that was published in 2015 by Level 99 Games. The box states it plays 2-5 players in 80-120 minutes.

Millennium Blades is a CCG-Simulator — A game in which you play as a group of friends who play the fictional CCG “Millennium Blades”.

In this game you will build decks, play the meta, acquire valuable collections, crack open random boosters, and compete in tournaments for prizes and fame. The game takes you from Starter Deck to Regionals in about 2-3 hours.

Multiple games can also be chained together to form a Campaign, going from Regionals to Nationals in game 2 and from Nationals to Worlds in game 3, with each game introducing ever more powerful cards and higher stakes, but also resetting the power of the game so that each player has a fair chance to win each ‘season’ of the campaign.

The game draws heavily on Manga/Anime inspiration for its art, and parodies Magic: the Gathering, Yugioh, and many other collectible games.

At its heart, it’s a commodity trading game, except that instead of cubes or stocks, the things you’ll be buying, selling, and speculating on are trading cards that can be used throughout the game in periodic tournaments. By trading wisely, playing the market, working together with friends, building collections, and winning tournaments, you’ll secure points and become the Millennium Blades World Champion.

The game features a system of card pods, where you will play with about 400 of the base game’s 600 cards every game.

My Thoughts

It shouldn’t be possible for a self-contained game to emulate the experience of a CCG, yet this defies all expectations. I’ll dig a little into each aspect after this, but they all work together to provide a comprehensive experience that has completely replaced any desire to dive back into a collectible card game. That makes the money spent on this game worth its weight in gold, as far as I am concerned, as it is far better to throw my money at a fixed product than at randomized boosters.

The abstracted process of opening booster packs is done well here. Sure, we all know that a deck of competitive cards is probably going to have a mix of common and uncommon cards that complement those super-powerful rare cards. But they made the right choice here to make it where you’re seeing the rare card in the pack that you purchase. Not all rares are made equal, making it almost like you’re building a good blend of those types of cards. In fact, they have a great representation among each set, making it so you can get an idea of what you might pull from that pack and, if you learn to read those icons on the pack, you’ll also have an idea of the odds of getting that card you want from the set. The process of buying and “opening” these packs is done really well, and it also has plenty of room for those who want to learn the card pool in order to make even better choices while seeking the right cards for your deck.

The timed portion of the game was the thing I was most skeptical about going into the game, but it turns out that it adds the right amount of tension and excitement to the process of collecting cards and building your deck. 20 minutes sounds like a TON of time, but it flies right by when broken down into the 7 minute and 6 minute segments. Add in new cards, trying to figure out what combos you have, seeing what sort of cards you may need, starting a collection, and then purchasing cards…well, there is a lot to do in those real-time sections. I’m yet to feel like I didn’t have enough time to make everything happen, but I also have never had so much time left that it felt wasteful. I think they nailed the precise timeframe in here, and honestly this is the time when players are their most engaged because everyone is busy working with what is in front of them. If it was turn-based instead, this part would be such a slog that it would make the game take forever.

While it is arguably the weaker component of the game, the tournament is still an interesting aspect of Millennium Blades. There are several strategies that can be pursued in constructing a deck, and with the multiplayer game there is plenty of opportunity to react to your opponent for the next tournament. If they have a lot of card flipping effects, you’ll want to keep things that unflip your cards or protect your cards. If they clash a lot, you’ll want things that focus on bonuses during a clash or have higher star values. Because there are three tournament phases, each with a full deckbuilding segment in between, there is a lot of table meta going on where you try and determine if your opponent is going to keep their winning deck mostly in-tact, trying to patch on some stronger cards for that same strategy or if they are going to bring something completely new, since they know that you are likely to build a deck to stop the one that just won in that tournament. This is one of the most fun aspects that takes place over the course of a game – and if you play regularly with a group you’ll develop your own meta just like you find in a regular CCG group.

Just like there are multiple deck types that can be built for the tournament, there are also multiple paths to victory outside of the 2-player game (which is essentially just first to win 2 out of 3 tournaments) since there are points awarded for money, tournament ranking, collections, and more. This makes it so that even someone who isn’t as good at building amazing deck combos can play and enjoy the game, feeling as though they aren’t necessarily at a crippling disadvantage if they lose every tournament.

This game is pun-tastic. Seriously, between the names of the sets, the artwork, and the individual card names…this is going to win the heart of anyone who has any inkling about the items contained in the game. And odds are, there are at least a few sets that speak to you pretty well. I’m not expecting any to top the Lightning Bug set for me, as this loyal Browncoat loves that ‘Verse created by Joss Whedon. Adding to the tongue-in-cheek is the usage of stacks of cash for the game currency. Nothing feels more accurate than tossing down five thick bundles of cash to get the one pack that might just have that perfect card for your deck. For a seriously good game, it has a really light-hearted approach that I find appealing.

The store stack is hilarious. Literally a massive stack of cards that is impossible for any human to shuffle properly. I like the towering stack, but I hate trying to shuffle it. Not to mention tearing it apart at the end of a game. That is why I tend to use the same stack for several games in a row, so that I don’t have to sort things back out as often.

There is so much stuff that goes into the game that it makes precise planning nearly impossible. That tower of market cards? Highly unlikely you’ll get through much of it, even over the course of 3 deckbuilding sequences. If you had 5 players, maybe, but not with 1-2. Which means even if you know what sets are in the market and what cards are in each set, there is no way to guarantee you can get the card you need for that combo you are aiming for. That is both a strength and a negative in this game, even though this appears as a negative. There is a high level of randomness in what you’ll purchase, regardless of how well you know the game. However, that is also a good thing because it forces you to adapt and build unique strategies around what you DO have rather than what you wish you had drawn.

Final Thoughts

Millennium Blades is the game I never knew I always wanted. I’ve spent periods of time in my life pursuing collectible card games, always enjoying the thrill of opening new packs and trying to piece together an effective and cohesive deck – but every time I’ve soured on them due to the insane release schedules and the buy-in that would be required to feel remotely competitive. The collectible card games price me out as a player, and that is where this excellent game steps in to provide exactly what I need: the simulation of those experiences without the quarterly spending of hundreds of dollars to chase the last cards needed to complete a collection or finish the engine of a deck. This game is delightful in scratching that same itch in a way that you simply don’t expect going into the game – even after hearing word-of-mouth vouching for the CCG simulation experience.

Normally I am not a fan of real-time aspects of games, with Galaxy Trucker being the one game that managed to do it well enough to draw me into the game. I wasn’t sure how I would like that in this one – but it turns out I shouldn’t have been too concerned. It is honestly the star of the show in terms of gameplay. Nothing is more exciting than that first 7 minutes of trying to look through your first batch of cards, see potential combos, look at what is currently possible from the market, throw down stacks of cash, and then reveal the cards you just purchased. WIthout a timer this part could drag on forever. Often times the length of the segments feel just right – other times it feels a little too long (which you can always end it early if all players are ready). While I wish the tournament phase was a little meatier in the decisions, it still provides a fun and interesting experience and there is plenty of room for unique deck playstyles among all players. The tournament as it is now is perfect for the level of involvement you’ll already have in this game – anything more would cause so much analysis paralysis can probably would be a detriment to the overall gameplay experience to all but the most hardcore Millennium Blades players.

It is no secret that I enjoy a lot of the Level 99 Games titles. I’m yet to encounter a game of theirs that I actively dislike, and many of their games are among my top games. I’ll never turn down a chance to play BattleCON, Exceed, or Pixel Tactics against another player. Argent: The Consortium remains my favorite worker placement game and a top-10 game for me. However, Millennium Blades might just be my favorite game produced by Level 99 Games, and that is saying something right there. It definitely is their best game overall, providing an experience that is unrivaled by anything on the market short of plunging into a CCG. And consider that you can get this game and everything released for it for about the price of two boxes of your standard CCG cards. That’s likely less than it would cost to complete a set of cards from one cycle of those CCG games, and you’ll get an all-in experience that is sure to delight.

Whether considering the witty puns that litter the card pool, the amazing artwork of Fabio Fontes, or the solid mechanics of the game – everything in the box delivers in the right way. I do wish there were more competitive modes for just 2 players, and I wish there were more bosses out there for solo play, but even with what I have now I would be content to revisit this game time and time again in my collection. And with one more massive expansion on its way in Collusion (coming to Kickstarter this month!), that is sure to expand this game to a point where I’ll never need (but will still want) more content no matter how many times this hits the table.

Board Gaming · First Impressions

First Impressions of Millennium Blades Solo

**Note: The game I played of Millennium Blades was in no way a complete experience, as I only have Set Rotation and a few mini-expansions in my collection so far. No base game was used – but, honestly, the game was able to be played in a complete enough manner to really get a taste for what it offers. I was able to sub in some tokens for the bundles of money and the sell markers and it worked effectively enough to get a taste of the game. There happen to be enough cards in the box to make a full market deck, although I suspect there are a LOT more Core Set cards in the base game that add a lot more accessories.

Magic: The Gathering was one of my first entries into modern board gaming. I had a regular group of guys in high school that I would get together with and we’d spend our weekends playing games of Magic, sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and dump hours into games on the Playstation 2. I loved the thrill of opening packs and seeing what new powerful cards I could build decks around, I loved building new decks to test out against my group, and I loved trying to take under-valued cards and seeing if I could find combinations to make them work. But eventually high school ended, we all went our separate ways, and Magic: The Gathering left my life.

Last year I found myself immersed in Star Wars: Destiny, and it instantly rekindled both the love and hate I have for these styles of games. Love because there is a thrill in opening packs and finding a great new card to build around and to spend time dreaming up possibilities for card/deck pairings. Hate because it becomes both a time and money sink. Eventually the release cycle’s aggressiveness scared me away from the game and I moved on from Star Wars: Destiny. Early in 2018 I fell into that same dance with the Final Fantasy Trading Card Game. It was a great game, one I still really enjoy playing, but I found I just can’t justify trying to build a collection to be competitive – and the need for real opponents in order to test decks and get better made my skill progression curve quite glacial. It was hard to play more than once or twice a month, and a CCG really needs at least weekly gaming sessions to test and improve decks, and the ability to buy the latest and greatest sets of cards to keep up with what other players will be playing.

Which is why I absolutely am convinced I am going to fall hard for Millennium Blades because it eliminates virtually everything I hate about the CCG scene while embracing the best aspects of that hobby. The buy-in for everything in this game so far is quite reasonable, even at full MSRP from the publisher ($212 for the base game, Set Rotation, all the mini-expansions, and a playmat), when compared to what I heard of people spending for a single cycle of cards in Star Wars: Destiny ($400) – and there has been a cycle out about every 3-4 months since that. There’s a new expansion planned for Kickstarter in early 2019, and that’s still likely to make this cheaper than a single buy-in for one complete cycle of any CCG out there apart from maybe Dicemasters. To play solo, you really only need just over half of that ($80 base game + $40 Set Rotation expansion) – and you’ll end up with such an incredible amount of card variety that it will make your head spin just thinking about it.

But the buy-in alone isn’t the real reason to be a fan of Millennium Blades after a single play as a solo exercise. Set Rotation adds in four bosses to face, each with their own unique deck containing a deck box, 4 accessories, and 8 cards. They will use 2 of those accessories (randomly chosen) and you’ll slowly get to know what those are and can somewhat plan around their deck’s strategy. You can freely look at their 8 cards, but 2 of them won’t be played and you’ll never know what order they will come out – so you can’t completely plan for that, either. Yet had I looked just a little at the boss’s synergies during my 20 minutes of building, I would have seen that he was almost guaranteed to flip each and every card I would get into play. My initial deck plan went right out the window within 2 cards, and I was left scrambling to make lemonade from the cards I didn’t sell or Fusion during the deckbuilding phase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because one of the real stars here is that deckbuilding phase! In a non-solo game you’ll do that full phase 3 times, but in the solo game you get just one shot at building that deck (which is broken into two 7-minute phases and a 6-minute phase). This is where you can buy cards (you start with $30, and new cards cost from $3 to $6), sell cards (you can sell at most 4 cards, which are worth from $1 to $9 that I saw, with the average being $4-6) so you can buy around 8-16 cards to add to your starter deck and the other 15 cards you get over the course of the building phases. From all of that you need to figure out what 6 cards you are likely wanting to play, plus a deck box to use and up to 2 accessories to bring, for your match against that boss.

The catch is that cards are blind buys. You know the set they belong to and how much they cost, but you have no idea what cards are underneath. Which is where the longer meta comes in through learning the cards in the sets and where combinations can come from in order to make smarter decisions – which will never come to you in the first play. It is generally a safe bet to buy cards in the same set, as there is often some overarching synergy you can find, but you can also trade 5, 7, or 9 cards of the same “rarity” for a special, powerful promo card that can bring your whole deck together or just provide something powerful to hold back for an emergency.

If this all sounds like a lot – it is. Yet that is what delights me about the game. There is a massive card pool (the base game alone apparently has over 700 cards) of which you’ll use a hefty chunk every time you set up the market. The thrill of the blind buys – and seeing how you can or cannot make that card work with what you’re aiming for – is something close to mimicing that blind buy of packs in a real CCG. The limitation on how much you can purchase, how much time you have to buy and sell, and to piece a deck together is what makes this a crisp package. From setup to teardown (if you maintain the market after the game ends) can be done in under an hour solitaire, and there are ways to string together a gauntlet of boss battles (and a mini expansion that expands those bosses) which will give strong legs to this game.

It scratched every itch I hoped for – and I’ve spent the past 12 hours (apart from when sleeping) constantly thinking back to the game, the clever cards, the decisions I could have made differently, and how to best the boss the next time I face him. The experience has stuck with me ever since the final card was played and the scores tallied, and that is what I want out of a game like this. I want to be theorycrafting card combinations and exploring strategies, finding out how to best make each starter deck work efficiently and analyzing the various sets of cards that can come out. That’s something you don’t get in modern board games very often, but is very much a part of the CCG scene. And so if I can get that CCG experience without breaking the bank account, that is an all-around win.

This might be the best game in the Level 99 Games catalog. It has a good chance of becoming my favorite game in their lineup. It won’t appeal to every gamer, and can’t possibly be recommended for every gaming group or even every solo gamer.

But for those who are seeking a blend of modern with the format of a CCG – and who want their bank account to remain in tact while doing so – this is a game that I think will have a strong appeal, and one I can’t wait to dive back into in order to see if these powerful first impressions hold up after a dozen plays.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Thank you for checking review #78 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: A review copy of this game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a board game designed by Jason D. Kingsley that was published in 2018 by Level 99 Games. The box states it plays 2 players in 15-30 minutes and has a BGG weight rating of 2.00.

That dastardly Professor Treasure is at it again! This time, he’s stolen all the world’s treasures and hidden them away in a secret floating castle! As an intrepid treasure hunter, you and your friends have finally managed to track down the castle. However, another team of explorers is already here!

Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle is a competitive puzzle game in which you and your opponent race to find keys, unlock treasure chests, and collect priceless treasures from around the world and history! Send out your team of treasure hunters, each with their own unique way to explore the castle. But beware! Your opponent will try to thwart your plans and grab the treasure for themselves!

—description from the publisher

Differences for two players

None, as this is a 2-player only game!

My Thoughts

 It will never be a favorite mechanism, but I really like the action programming in this one and how it is handled. Both players have the same 8 roles, of which 2 are randomly removed (potentially making both players using a different 6 roles). After the tiles are placed for the map, the players simultaneously break their cards into groups. The first player of the round makes 3 groups of 2, the second player makes 2 groups of 3. The the players take turns putting out a grouping at a time onto the board. I really enjoy this aspect of the game, and need more games with something similar.

 Pairing with the programming is that all characters have a determined order of activation, with the 1’s triggering first and ascending up to the 7’s. The first player’s card goes first when both players have the same card# in play. This adds a good, strategic depth to not only the placement of your cards, but also how you group the cards, when to put that group out, and more.

 I love that all 8 cards are unique in how they can be placed and what they do. Some are placed directly onto a tile and take that tile. Some are placed outside a column or row and can take any tile in that column or row. Some can shift tiles around, or thieve tiles as an opponent takes one. Since you don’t know up front what 6 cards your opponent is able to use in a round, the planning at the start can be an interesting game of trying to decide what to place and where with those first cards.

 Scoring in this game is far more intuitive than I expected from reading the rules. Since it is all done at the end of the game, there is no bookkeeping to do along the way. And since you keep the tiles you earn, there is no tracking it that way. There is also a pair of great player aids with how all three things score. Overall, well done.

 This game wouldn’t be as good without a measure of pressing your luck, and it comes here in the form of skeleton keys. You see, chest are worth a lot of points but need keys (1-4 per chest) to open them. Each key you have can be used once per round, which means if you need more keys than you have available you have to take Skeleton Keys to open that chest. Not only are they worth negative points (after the first one you take), but they become increasingly more impactful if you take too many (for instance, the 5th key would be worth -4 points, the 6th worth another -5 points) so you need to decide how aggressive you want to be on taking chests.

 This game could have been done using just cards. Given the production by Level 99 Games, it wouldn’t have surprised me to see all cards in there. However, the tiles in this box are fantastic quality and enhance the experience of building the map each round and the stacks made of tiles as you collect them is fun, too.

 Not enough good can be said about the artwork done by Fabio Fontes and Laura La Vito at Level 99 Games. There are big names in the board game art world, but these two (and Nokomento) are severely underrecognized as a whole. The art in this game is crisp and clean, and the graphical design is intuitive and complementary of the game design.

 This game has a little variety because you’ll only use 6 of the 8 cards each round and there is a good chance a few tiles won’t appear. But how I wish there was a little beyond that in this box – a few “advanced” roles to mix in after some plays, or more tiles than the exact number you’d need as a maximum. There’s a little room here to add a mini-expansion in the future, maybe adding 5-6 tiles of a set together where if you get 1-2 of them you lose points and move into some strong points if you get 5-6 of them.

 There is a small problem with the number of rounds in this game and the advantage it provides to the player who goes first. Since the first player in a round places their final cards last, they can make those last decisions with perfect information about what their opponent is doing. Granted, this requires grouping well and saving the right pair to place last, but this feels like a position of power. So with 3 rounds, the start player goes first twice in a game. Yet 3 rounds is the perfect number for the game, as it would get ridiculous (or really uninteresting) in a 4th round, and would end prematurely in the 2nd round. So while I don’t have a good answer for how to fix it, and it isn’t something that breaks/ruins the game, it definitely feels like the start player gets a small advantage over the course of the game.

 I hate the decision to have the rulebook to be a folded oversized sheet of paper, essentially. It isn’t really feasible to have it unfolded on the table while playing, meaning you need it folded up beside you and will need to unfold it to look rules up. I’d much prefer a small booklet, which would also be good for referencing things in an organized manner.

Final Thoughts

When I got my review copy at Gen Con, I knew only two things for sure about this game: it has an awesomely unique title and was produced by one of my personal favorite publishers. I also knew that my wife had yet to find a game (other than, finally, Argent: The Consortium) that she really liked from Level 99 Games. Enjoyed enough to tolerate? Sure, she hasn’t hated anything from Level 99 yet, but she hadn’t instantly liked any of them to want to play more. I’m happy to report that she really liked this one, an opinion that mirrors my own feelings about this game.

In fact, one of my favorite things about this game is that it uses a mechanic completely missing from our collection: action programming. I’ve played a very small handful of those games, and I think the only one my wife has tried has been How to Rob a Bank (leave me recommendations on non-cooperative ones to try in the comments, please!). So I was very interested in how this would pan out when it hit the table for us. This is a game that is going to exist in our collection for the same reason that games like Holmes: Sherlock & Mycroft do – they are games that will never be our favorites, but are unique enough and small enough that we’ll want to pull them back out several times a year for a game or three (likely a best-of-three series). For the price on this one, there is plenty of game to keep us coming back for years to come without it growing stale.

While it would be great to see some more variety in the cards or tiles, the simplicity of everything in here allows the game to get out of the way and open things up to strong, creative play. I knew this was a gem when, during our first two plays of the game, we were both complaining about moves the other person made…in a good way. You’re going to get in each others’ way, resulting from clever (or lucky) placement or selection. If we had our own “Glory to Rome” board, it’d get filled with tallies over the course of a best-of-three play of this one.

And really, that is what I want from a filler game: a game that fills a unique niche in my collection, has quick setup/teardown time, and provides a very thinky and competitive game experience against my wife. For the small box this comes in, at a great price point, this is a quality 2-player game from a company that puts out a lot of excellent 2-player games. While all of their games may not appeal to every couple, this one will have a more universal appeal than most.

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Two-Player Only

Review for Two – Exceed Fighting System

Thank you for checking review #74 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Exceed Fighting System

**Note: This is an overview of the fighting system as a whole, not a review of any particular box from the seasons of the game. Some of those may enter the pipeline in the future, though…

Exceed Fighting System is a game designed by D. Brad Talton Jr. and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2 players and has a 5-30 minute play time.

Bring the fast-paced action of head-to-head arcade fighting games to your tabletop with the EXCEED Fighting System, which features fast-paced, intuitive mechanisms and gameplay that’s accessible to gamers and non-gamers of all skill levels. Choose your fighter from an ever-growing roster of diverse characters, each with their own deck of special moves and supers. Play your cards to unleash fireballs, dragon punches, and deadly combos on your opponents!

Titles in the EXCEED Fighting System come in one of two forms: standalone games that contain decks that allow two players to compete against one another, and individual decks. The standalone games are being released in “seasons”, with each season containing sixteen fighters from various franchises or worlds that are packaged into four-character boxes. Any deck can be played against any other deck, allowing you to compete across seasons and across worlds.

Season 1 of EXCEED features the art and characters of Jasco Games’ Red Horizon, which was first featured in the UFS Collectible Card Game. Season 2 of EXCEED features the monstrous heroes and villains of Seventh Cross, an upcoming game world from Level 99 Games.

My Thoughts

A huge change from BattleCON is that it becomes a “you go, I go” system and not every turn will consist of an attack. There are other things to do, such as drawing more cards or boosting your next attack or even moving around the board, and these add some nice, small decisions for the players. Attacking spends cards, all other actions at the least gain a card at the end of your turn. So eventually you’re going to either need to do something other than attack or just spam Wild Swings.

Wild Swings are what make this game exciting. Seriously. There’s something amazing about landing a strike that you couldn’t have otherwise done from your hand. I had a situation where I was 4 spaces away, my max range in my hand was 3. I gambled with the Wild Swing and flipped a card I didn’t even know existed yet that had a 4-6 range. It was an amazing feeling. I’ve also pulled off a finishing blow with a Wild Swing, as my opponent was at 4 health and both my hand attacks dealt 3. So I gambled on the Wild Swing and brought them down. Is it a reliable tactic to use often? No. But it is great to have that option for when you don’t have the right cards, or desire to keep your hand in-tact.

I love how thematic it feels to need to land hits in order to use your stronger attacks. Every successful hit is added to your Gauge, which is essentially a currency you can spend. Each character has a few cards (called Ultra Attacks) that can only be played by spending Gauge. It can also be spent as Force, providing more for fewer cards. It is like your fighter is using momentum throughout the match to hit harder and (usually) faster than a normal attack. While they lack any finishers, these are a close enough substitute that it feels right.

The Exceed mode on each character brings a nice decision into the game, as it also takes Gauge to flip your character. Gauge isn’t always easy, or fast, to come by. Spending 2-4 Gauge is a critical decision at times, as using it for Exceed will make it so you probably can’t afford an Ultra Attack. However, the continuous boost/change to your character might be worthwhile. Deciding when/if to Exceed is a critical decision at times, and one I enjoy having available.

EX Attacks are a fun twist to add in there, yet another thing that adds some flair to the gameplay and makes it exciting. When you play a strike, if you have two cards of the same name you can put them both down. What this essentially does is add +1 to everything but range on the attack, making it faster, stronger, and provide more defense. This has been the difference between being stunned and making a connection on an attack, and is a simple yet wonderful tactic.

There is balance in the game. Honestly, it felt like there wasn’t during my first two games as the fighters I used are polar opposites (one is all about ranged attacks, the other about being right next to the opponent). Yet as I played more, using the same matchup against the same opponent, that perceived disadvantage disappeared. Do they dictate some of the playstyle? Sure, which is the beauty of a game where there are currently 32 fighters, not counting bonus ones. You just need to find the one that resonates most with you.

These things are worth mentioning even though all I have is a demo deck. These could be things that have been changed/fixed already and I just don’t know it. But here goes: The board is 9 cards. While it isn’t a bad thing, having a board (other than via purchasing a mat) would be a nice bonus. I understand the cost savings of this method but it also leads me to wonder if there is a way to track health in the box. No board or mat leads me to have to find alternative methods for tracking our health.

The rules I have are disappointing. Yes, you can learn the game from them and play without much issue. The few questions we ran into in the last play session were either answered in the FAQ or quickly answered by the amazing fan community. However, they are a folded poster. Yes, that makes it portable. But I don’t want a massive rule sheet on the table while playing, and folding/unfolding it is annoying during play. I would honestly prefer more of a book – something I hope to discover upon opening a box rather than just a pair of demo decks…

Final Thoughts

I got my first introduction to Exceed: Fighting System at Gen Con from the Level 99 Games booth. I distinctly remember talking to Brad Talton while playing Temporal Odyssey beforehand, asking him how he felt Exceed and BattleCON could co-exist while providing the same concept of fighting game. I simply didn’t understand how this game could be different enough from BattleCON, a game I had already played and came to love, to merit consideration in a person’s collection. But Brad was right – turns out the designer of the games knows what he is talking about – this game is different enough to co-exist in a collection.
Both of the games are going to scratch different playstyle itches. BattleCON is deep in tactical and strategic layers because you have a set of cards that are known to both players, and that are available in a cyclical system of rotation. This provides both its greatest strength and greatest weakness in the same blow, as it allows you to plan for every possible combination your opponent could play and to think ahead by several turns on your own moves.
Exceed, on the other hand, has elements of both but is a lot heavier on the tactical side of things because it adds in randomness into the mix. You won’t always have the exact card you need for the situation, and the number of specific moves is finite in that deck. While it loses the ability to plan with perfect information, it gains a lot more emotional moments instead. Rather than doing well because you outplayed your opponent, you gain the thrill of connecting on a hopeless Wild Swing strike and drawing the exact card you need at just the right time for your circumstances. It provides more of a roller coaster of excitement and layers of tension that are sometimes lacking in the BattleCON match. All the while feeling like a brand new system that still feels as though it will reward the experienced player.
My experience so far with Exceed is limited to two characters, those demo decks I picked up at Gen Con, and that is why I feel there is some value here in reviewing the system as a whole. This avoids diving into X is broken or Y is underpowered or Z is the best box to purchase because it has A in there. This is my taking a look at the mechanics of Exceed and providing a review of the mechanics alone.
And that is enough. Honestly, it doesn’t matter as much about which box you pick up or which season of Exceed you purchase because the core of the game is great. I’m still not sure if I prefer this or BattleCON, and I don’t know that I will ever make that decision. I know players who are likely to prefer the open information of BattleCON and the feeling of outplaying your opponent to win. I know others who prefer a little luck in their game and will really dig the use of a Wild Swing as a mechanic. I enjoy them both equally.
Which says a lot about Exceed, since my expectations were pretty low going into the game. It provides a faster experience, while opening up a lot more small decisions to the player because it is not just about pairing attacks every single turn. You can not only do smaller actions to help position your fighter or load your hand, but you can also Exceed to unlock your more powerful side and play EX attacks to boost your strikes. I love the tweaks made on this fighting system, and if you like a little luck in your game and a box that has an excellent entry price, then definitely check out one of the eight available boxes of Exceed.


Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Exceed Fighting System. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon:

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

Board Gaming · Kickstarter · Two-Player Only

BattleCON Unleashed on Kickstarter + Fanfic Preview

This post is long overdue. Really long overdue. The campaign for BattleCON Unleashed is literally in its final hours, and it is one that I 100% recommend. Whole-heartedly. I believe in Level 99 Games and the work they are doing, and the BattleCON system is arguably the best 2-player only game out there for your money. Yes, better than my hyped Hanamikoji because of all the variability, depth, and replay value contained in even one box of this game (yet you’ll want them all).

So go check out the campaign. Pledge if you want to – it’ll be great. You can get everything ever released from BattleCON, or just the newest stuff. You can’t go wrong either way, as BattleCON isn’t just fan service to the fighting genre of video games. What is in the box is a tight, fast, fun dueling game with a ton of strategy and tactics, complete with open information. It rewards new players, as well as mastery of the characters.

Curious about my full thoughts on BattleCON? Check out the review I wrote for Trials of the Indines back in June.

This month has been the hardest month in terms of time for me. I wanted a nice, long, complete fanfic to post up as part of their campaign. In my mind, I was still going to reach the end of it in time, but life is just too insane right now for me to dedicate the proper time and attention to make a polished product. So I’ll end this with a teaser – a very small sampling of what will eventually become a long, finished product. Something that I, and Level 99 Games, can be proud of. Even this scene has changed and expanded – but it will be enough for now. The lore in the World of Indines is incredible, and so much is unexplored that a writer could be content creating content for years and still have things to cover.


“Whoa, the Rubara Keep is massive,” said Magdelina. She brushed a lock of hair aside and shook her head, her long pigtails swinging from the motion.

“Focus,” replied Kallistar. “We’re here for a reason, remember?”

“Right,” Magdelina said, “to stop Rexan from being resurrected and casting a shadow upon Indines once more. Which means we need to find Hepzibah before she can use her resurrection spell. I was the one with the dreams showing the event happening, remember?.”

“And it is very important that we succeed.” Kallistar marched forward, forcing her two companions to catch back up.

“Success is important,” Vanaah replied in between breaths, “but we also can’t walk blindly into a trap or ambush.”

“A trap?” Magdelina echoed, stopping in her tracks. Her gaze darted around the massive chamber, scrutinizing the shadows being cast by torches hanging from the walls and pillars. Vanaah looked up toward the ceiling where a pair of balconies stretched out over the chamber, but neither contained any signs of movement. Kallistar continued her determined stride forward, eyes fixated on the double doors ahead.


“Kallistar, look out!” Magdelina shouted. Her companion continued her march onward. Two arrows converged upon the pyromancer in the lead. Magdelina clenched her fists and two luminescent shields formed in the air, traveling alongside Kallistar. The arrows bounced harmlessly off the shields and Magdelina banished the shields.

“Finally,” Kallistar said as the double doors opened and waves of guards burst into the chamber. Spouts of flame burst from Kallistar’s fists, scorching the nearest guards.

“We must remain vigilant,” Vanaah said as she readied her scythe. She swept the weapon in a wide arc, the crescent blade slicing the shins of a nearby guard.

“This is a distraction,” Magdelina said, dodging an arrow. “We need to find Hepzibah before it is too late.”

The stream of guards continued to flood into the chamber. Vanaah danced through their attacks, striking back mercilessly with her scythe. Kallistar burned with fury, her flames growing hotter with every blow the guards land upon her as she battles back the swarm. She laughs as a heavy crossbow bolt pierces her shoulder and sends a bolt of fire racing across the room to strike back at the assailant.

Swords slashed through the air around Magedelina. She ducked under one strike and hopped aside to avoid a thrust. Thick blue tendrils of smoke rose into the air from a golden ball in her hands, growing thicker with every successful dodge. A blast of flame tore through the guards to Magdelina’s right and she rolled under another swing from the remaining guard.

As she got to her feet, she spotted a flash of red hair beneath a black pointy hat. It disappeared beyond the open doors. “Hepzibah,” Magdelina whispered. Her companions were busy fighting off the guards. Kallistar looked like she was finally enjoying this quest for the first time since they embarked, and Vanaah was surrounded by a circle of troops. Magdelina knew Vanaah needed her help, but the mission had to come first. The fate of the entire world was in their hands, and the revival of Rexan would cast a shadow over the world. Hepzibah needed to be stopped at all costs.

She walked across the room, the turmoil of battle remaining on either side of her. The double doors began to close and she dashed forward. The opening grew smaller and smaller as she approached and she dove forward, rolling to her feet on the other side as the doors slammed shut. She looked around but could see no one who might have shut the doors. Goosepimples spread up her arms and she turned to examine the dark hallways.

To be continued…

Board Gaming · Review for Two

Review for Two – Temporal Odyssey

Thank you for checking review #68 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.

An Overview of Temporal Odyssey

Temporal Odyssey is a game designed by Chris Solis and was published by Level 99 Games & CGC Games in 2018. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 20-45 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.

Temporal Odyssey is a drafting battle card game about dueling time travelers for 2 and 4 players. Draft from the past, present, or future, and enlist legendary heroes and creatures to fight by your side. Group your characters to get them to share their abilities, using this both offensively and defensively. Regroup often to adapt to the situation. Rewind time to prevent your own death but be careful — each time you must suffer judgement from Lovox the god of time. Destroy your opponent’s stability and deliver the final blow to banish them from the timeline and win the game!

Gameplay differences for 2 Players

There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.

Rules Rating

Overall, this was not a difficult game to learn and teach. The rules are straightforward enough to grasp after two readings with minimal questions. There are some areas in the rules that are contradictory and/or needed clarification, and there is an official FAQ with those corrections; thankfully, many of those are very minor involving setup. However, I really dislike the format of the large sheet folded up, as it is a hassle to unfold it and find the space to look at it and try to find what you’re looking for. A small 4-8 page rule booklet would have been much better, allowed more examples, an index to help find specific concepts, and more. That is the biggest detriment is trying to find what you need when searching to answer a question: there is a lot of space to look through to try and discover that answer. 7/10 rating on the rules, as it can be taught from with relative ease but isn’t great for referencing on-the-go and for the errors in the rulebook.

My Thoughts


This game does something so wonderful that I rarely see in this style of game: it gives you access to wildly powerful cards and you can play any of them on the next turn after you acquire them. There is no holding a card until you get X lands out, or have a resource match, or whatever blocks a game naturally places on power cards. You can draft a card on your first turn that makes you do a double take before laughing manically at what is about to hit your unsuspecting opponent. The game skips over the slow build-up to power and lets you dive right in, letting the crazy cards and combos fly.

There is a common thread among all six travelers, as they have identical powers, they each have a tower, an ally that has some HP and attack, an ally with shield that can pull a card from a timeline deck, an artifact, and three spells. Those spells are the difference between them, apart from the element on the artifact, and that is a good thing. Each traveler is different due to their spells, yet similar enough that you aren’t at a disadvantage when playing a new traveler. This provides enough asymmetry to give flavor without making that asymmetry a barrier to learning for players.

I love that there are effects on units that can spread to the unit they regroup with. This opens up ways to mitigate damage, retaliate when attacked, and much more. A lot of times the Regroup phase provides the most important decisions you can make in terms of what units to pair together and which should be in the front and which in the back. It adds a layer of tactical strategy to the experience that would otherwise be missing from a game like this.

Adding into the Regrouping phase, there are units you obviously want to have behind another unit so they cannot be targeted with attacks. However, any unit you attack with has to be at the front of a grouping, meaning you need to weigh the decision to attack against whether you need to defend that unit. A miscalculation here, as I discovered this week, can be very costly in the end. It wasn’t the power of his cards that cost me the game, but my own decision to attack with my traveler rather than trying to use my other units to take out his threat.

Turns are simple. You have four AP to spend (there are a few exceptions) on your turn. Spells, Artifacts, and units have an AP cost to bring them into play. Cards brought into play cannot be used to attack. Some cards have an ability that can be triggered by spending AP. You use the other side of the AP token to indicate attacks. Most turns will be playing a card and doing 1-2 attacks or abilities. Then you regroup the units and draft three cards from a single time period deck (more on that next!) Simple turns, which keep the action flowing fast and help make it streamlined to play cards and resolve attacks.

There is drafting in the game. Oh, how I love me some card drafting. In this one, you do that at the end of your turn, choosing one of the three decks (Past, Present, or Future) and take the top three cards. One you select to place in your hand, one you discard permanently from the game (Banish it), and the other returns face-up to the top of the deck. Yep, face-up. Excellent decisions to be had here, as you are considering what you want, what needs to be removed, and what you want your opponent to see is available on their turn. Such a clever decision here, and it is probably my favorite part of the game.

I love the artwork and the graphical layout in this game. The team behind this did a fantastic job overall, and I was pleased to hear that a good number of the characters in here are also in Chris Solis’ first game: Terrene Odyssey. Added to that, the theme of this game is incredible, and is the hook I’ve used at the start every time to raise my opponent’s interest before diving into how to play the game.

I almost “finished” this review without mentioning one of the other interesting and important things in this game: Instability. If your traveler gets knocked out while you have 3 Instability, you lose the game. So Instability is a bad thing, inherently. However, they have actions on there which you can use (I think they are all one-time use) to gain an edge during the battle, allowing you to lean into the damaging effect and capitalize upon it. You also gain a symbol on that Instability card, helping you to boost your spells and abilities until the point where you use that card for its effect. This is a clever thing to add into the game, and one I really enjoy.


Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while will know what comes next: replayability. Six travelers to choose from, each of them containing unique spells and an artifact in their unique element. Three different time periods of cards, each of those containing only three out of six factions. This means you could, without any extra work, play two games in a row and have a completely new setup of factions in every time period deck to play with. Learning the cards in those decks so that you know what to try and find during a game will take several plays, at which point a lot of strategy layers can open up for players.

Which leads into the fact that this game really rewards the experienced player. Sure, a new player can compete against a skilled one. Heck, I played this against the designer and it was down to the wire with me losing the turn before I would have finished him off. It has layers of strategy and tactics that take many games, and a knowledge of what cards are in which factions, to unlock and use effectively. This is a good thing, and also a bad thing. If you want to be great, you need to play it. A lot. But you also need to play it a lot to be great at it. Yes, I meant to say it that way. It is a lifestyle game, just like several others that Level 99 Games has in their catalog (BattleCON, Exceed, Pixel Tactics) so that should come as no surprise. If you have a group of people willing to play regularly, this is a great game for that group. But if you want to pull it out for a game every 6-9 months and want to do well…that may be difficult.

The card stock on this leaves something to be desired. I am not a habitual sleever of games, but this one may need to be the exception in my collection. For a game I want to play dozens of times in the coming months, I would hate for these cards to wear out quickly. Thankfully, there is ample space in the box for sleeved cards and, presumably, future expansion content.

The player aids…they have the same information on both sides. I don’t understand the reasoning for this, but it is a disappointment. The other side should honestly contain the various keywords that appear on cards, such as Stunned, and what they do. Especially those keywords that do not get defined on the bottom of a card. Also, they leave off the start of turn phase where you resolve Start of Turn effects, discard AP tokens off cards and regain a pool of 4 AP, and exhaust all spell cards in play.

There are only two spells for each of the three time period decks, and they are always mixed in there. In a game with this much replay and variability, that aspect is slightly disappointing to me. I’m sure there is a reasoning behind it, as maybe having more spells unbalanced the game (a tongue-in-cheek statement for sure about a game that makes players so powerful from the start that they can feel like the game is unbalanced…even though I would argue it is pretty well balanced overall since both players typically achieve that feeling).

Final Thoughts

This game’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength: things ramp up quickly via unapologeticly powerful cards and combos. This is the game that skips over the slow build-up that most card-driven games (whether dueling games like Magic: The Gathering or deckbuilding games like Dominion) start players off at and jumps feet-first into the depths of madness. And whoa, that is FUN. There are few games where, after drawing the first three cards off a deck, your opponent’s eyes get wide and they giggle with glee at the sheer magnitude of the card they select. And while that may signal bad things for me as a player, I know that I can get the same kind of power with my next draw, too. In a game where so much feels powerful, nothing truly ends up being that overpowered.

Except maybe Zane the Ender, who finally ended me in a game where he appeared because I focused too much on the thrill of my own newfound power instead of realizing I could get taken down in a turn. And that was on me.

There is a solid amount of variety in the box, as you will use only one of the six travelers and only 3 of the 6 factions for each time period with each game. I wish there was more variety in the spells for each period, but I imagine that is something that could come in a future expansion. And this game is definitely primed for some future expansions in the form of new travelers, new spells, new instability cards, and new factions for each time period. And, honestly, I’ll probably buy them all.

It is fun to find a game that unashamedly lets players feel powerful from the start. I absolutely love that about this one, and find it to be the most charming aspect of Temporal Odyssey. It could have followed a more traditional approach with a slow burn to power, making the game stretch out longer and taking the teeth away from cards. I’m glad it didn’t. I have enough of those kinds of games, and sometimes you just want to throw power around like you’re Thanos and you’ve collected all of the Infinity Stones. There aren’t enough games like that on the market right now, and this one is a refreshing change from the norm.

That approach won’t appeal to everyone, of course. Some people prefer the slow burn where they forge together a long-term strategy to outplay their opponent over time. This game absolutely has the potential for wild swings, but overall there is still a lot of room for tactical movement and interesting decisions to give players control over how things unfold. Most of the time it will be the better player who wins, not the one with the luckiest draw, but it also allows everyone involved to be having fun as they see what mind-blowing power they can unleash next.

If you enjoy games where you duel against an opponent, this is definitely one you should check out because it strips away the fat and serves a healthy dose of powerful fun. Games are fast and furious, and are quick enough to set up and reset for the next duel. And you’ll want to move into that next match, making a best of three or a best of five bout with your friend. At a time where I’m ruthlessly culling my collection and questioning the value of every game on my shelf, this one will survive on the merit of the gameplay it provides and the memories it will inevitably form as it gets played over and over again with my friends.


Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Temporal Odyssey. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon:

Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.

Board Gaming · First Impressions · Gen Con 2018

Gen Con 2018 Recap – Day One

Whew, what a weekend at Gen Con. For those who don’t know, this was my first every convention. Yep, not just first Gen Con. Any convention ever. And I went in thinking I had an idea of what to expect, but there was probably nothing that could have fully prepared me for the experience that awaited me. I played only a fraction of the games I wanted to try, missed out on meeting a few of the people I really wanted to catch, and spent far more time in the evening walking around not knowing what to do once the Vendor Hall closed down. Without further ado, here is my recap for the first day, with posts on the other two days of attendance to follow.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap
Day One – Thursday

My day started off by driving 7 or so hours from central Iowa to Indianapolis. I wanted to be there before 2:00 to meet with some of the Level 99 Games crew, so I left long before the sun was up in the sky. After an uneventful trip, I went straight to where I parked and shuttled into the Convention Center where I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of things. After finding the Press Room to get my badge, I had about 20 minutes to make my way over to the Level 99 booth.

Chris Solis & Temporal Odyssey, Level 99 Games

First up was meeting Chris Solis, the designer of Temporal Odyssey. He turned out to be a really great guy (something that can be said of every single person to follow in this post) and was very open to playing a quick round of his latest game with me. I had played once before with a buddy of mine. so I knew the basics, but it was great to see his strategies taken and to pick his brain a few times about the importance of certain cards or decisions he made along the way. The game itself was as fun as I remembered, being a fast and furious competition between two time travelers. I pulled out some really fun cards, including a late Paladin (my favorite deck) that nearly won me the game. He managed to just barely finish me off a turn before I would have defeated him. This one is a game I am enjoying in my collection, and will be reviewing in the near future for sure. It plays out a little like a CCG duel, but with the ramp up for each side happening almost instantly. There have been times in both games I’ve played where I’ve been stunned at the sheer power of some of these cards, and that makes it fun and unpredictable as you play. There is a ton of room for this game to grow and expand, which is something I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing.

However, the best part was getting to know him a little and hearing about Terrene Odyssey (the “prequel” to this game) and how a lot of the characters and villains in that game appear on cards in Temporal Odyssey. Being a person who grew up playing JRPG games, the idea of each player forming a party of adventurers really appeals to me, and I’ll definitely be checking that one out. I made one key suggestion to Chris regarding Temporal Odyssey, and was very reassured to see him make note of the suggestion. He takes note of everything suggested by players, which is awesome to hear.

D. Brad Talton Jr., Level 99 Games

Unfortunately, my time with Brad was very short but in that span of time I got to know the man behind the mic in the Level 99 Podcast (highly recommended listening!). We talked BattleCON a little bit, as I have a fair amount of recent experience with it after reviewing Trials of the Indines and the BETA of BattleCON Online back in June. His biggest challenge, with BattleCON Online, was getting the right team in place for the project. My understanding is this is essentially 2.0 right now, as it sounds like there was previously an attempt to make it that didn’t succeed in reaching a final product. This time around has gone a lot better, and having played the online version I am very pleased with the product. There is going to be an Adventure Mode to the online game, which will enhance the experience available to players much like old fighting video games would have storyline experiences to progress through. Look for BattleCON Online to launch on August 10th (you can find it listed already on Steam!)

The final big Kickstarter for the physical game of BattleCON is coming around the end of August (tentative date of the 30th), and will have the box large enough to contain EVERYTHING for the game. Which is great, as I currently have three BattleCON boxes to fit on my shelf and I would really prefer to consolidate them into one box! One of the things I’m most excited for in the campaign will be the “social” goals, which will include things such as submitting fanart and fanfiction for the game. He confirmed it was still his intent to have that (I can’t recall all of the categories discussed a few podcast episodes ago), and I’m going to get to work on some fanfiction in the near future for this Kickstarter.

Finally we talked Exceed, and I asked him why he developed a very similar game when BattleCON already existed. He got to tell me a little about how the randomness of the deck opens the game to where it feels familiar to someone who might come into it with a CCG or LCG background, and makes it so you can have those moments where the right card comes at the right time for you. So while it may be similar in concept to BattleCON, having the players drawing from preconstructed decks of cards rather than having everything open information provides a very different experience.

Exceed Demo Game, Level 99 Games

Since they were demoing the Exceed game at the booth as well, I decided to take a swing at the game and see how it played out. I played as Lily, and was matched against the demonstrator who used Ulrik. Since I knew BattleCON, it made it fairly easy for him to explain the game and were were up and playing with very little downtime. I had to agree with Brad by the end, this game is very different from BattleCON. While the key concept is the game, its execution makes it a totally fresh gameplay experience. Not only with the drawing of cards, but how the turns play out and the ability to always be able to do a Wild Swing, allowing you to play a card from the top of your deck during a battle sequence. The EX attacks are also a nice addition, making it rewarding to play two of the same card on the same sequence for a boost.

While I didn’t end up purchasing anything Exceed for myself (yet), this is definitely one I could have in my collection even if I own everything BattleCON. I’ll be using these two demo decks to teach my friends who enjoyed the BattleCON game, and let them decide which of the two they prefer. Odds are, it will be both that remain in my collection. I’m so glad I got the chance to try the game.

Edward Uhler, Heavy Cardboard

The top of my must-meet list was Edward from Heavy Cardboard and so I sought him out as soon as I was done with my Level 99 Games time. He was demoing the new Teotihuacan: City of Gods coming from NSKN Games. I happened to catch him while the players were already going strong in the game, so he was willing to step aside for a few moments and just chat. I fanboyed a little, and picked up my Heavy Cardboard challenge coin from him in person. I love how he emphasized how important the integrity of his channel is, and how they distinguish between sponsored playthroughs (which is just that: them playing the game to show it to you) and reviews (which are never sponsored or paid for, just them giving the game its time in the spotlight).

He was personable and approachable, and commented on my HC shirt (and that of several others as they passed by the booth). He is as gracious and as humble as he always sounds on the podcast when I listen to them. I had hoped to make it back sometime to catch a demo of Teotihuacan, but never got that opportunity in the whirlwind of the convention. However, this meeting was everything I could have hoped for in a 5-minute greeting and I look forward to continuing to interact with them going forward. Seriously, check out their content. The podcast reviews are thoughtful and have convinced me to try several of my new favorites (notable: Lisboa & Ora et Labora), and their Teach & Playthroughs of games are my go-to source to learn the rules for a game.

Clay Ross, Capstone Games

I made my way to my other must-meet of the convention: Clay Ross. He’s been a huge supporter for my blog since last year, and I wanted to take the time to thank him for that and to let him know how much I appreciate the work he’s done. Honestly, I haven’t met a Capstone Games product I didn’t like, and I brought home a copy of Carthago (more on that in Day Two) to add into my collection. It was a really hard choice between that, the expansion for Haspelknecht, or Arkwright.

The latter game there was only in the debate after Clay specifically talked about that game and recommended I give it a play sometime soon. The prices at Capstone were all great, with games being individually stickered for pricing and showing the MSRP as well as the Gen Con pricing. As I found more and more booths selling their games at MSRP, I really came to appreciate his discounted pricing structure.

Unfortunately, just like Edward, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Clay as I would have liked. We got to talk about our love for Lignum and how great it is, as well as The Ruhr/The Ohio and its incredible depth. But it was great to meet him, and to mention how much I enjoy the Deep End Podcast (another must-subscribe. Don’t worry, they don’t produce shows on a regular basis. But they are always worth the wait for the discussion, the banter, and the laughter that comes from listening to an episode.

Firefly Adventures, Gale Force Nine

My first scheduled event at Gen Con at 4:00, and I was torn on whether or not to attend. Honestly, I wanted to go around the vendor hall and this was the first time I learned the hard way about booking things during the Vendor Hall hours. Still, I was excited to try this as a big Firefly fan and knowing my wife isn’t going to be interested in trying this cooperative game. We were playing with the Respectable Folk expansion, and did a scenario that I believe was the Garden Gala. The four of us were ready and eager to dive in, and the person who eventually came to help run it wasn’t the most personable guy. The rules overview was spotty, as we had a lot of questions as we went through the session.

It also didn’t help things that we discovered what we needed to with the very first investigation, which was done by the very first person to act. Then we had to spend several turns “treading water”, so to speak, while waiting for the group of people to disperse to their houses. Luckily for us, it got to a point where the guy we needed was literally the only one (besides the bartender) in the room so we were able to take him on without any complications. Mal shot him up with a shotgun, we retrieved Inara’s stolen items, and high-tailed it out of there before the other folk got to react to anything.

If that sounds like an incredibly boring sequence, you’re right. It was unexciting and left me feeling really unimpressed with the game. Granted, most of that was due to the immense luck we experienced. Another play of that same scenario might have resulted in a very different sequence that would have been more exciting. But ultimately I walked away disappointed and wishing I could regain that time spent at that table. Would I play it again? Sure. Will I buy it? Not without a much, much better experience or two with the game that can show me just how amazing the game can be.

Thunderstone Quest, Alderac Entertainment Group

Next came a long, long break to go check into my hotel, facetime my wife and son, eat, and head back to the convention center for more gaming. It was after 8 by the time I arrived, and I had previously purchased a ticket to attend the newest campaign for Hero Realms. However, that was cancelled a week before the convention so I didn’t know what to do next. I missed my chance to get in on the Stronghold Games event, and so I found myself wandering the Rio Grande room, the Czech Games room, and the Exhibit Hall and eventually sat down to watch two people playing Thunderstone Quest.

During my spectatorship, one of the volunteers came and sat next to me and started chatting. I mentioned I hadn’t played this yet, nor any of the Thunderstone line before. So I was given about a 15 minute rundown of the game and how it is played while watching these two play out the game in front of me. Needless to say, this sounds like a very unique entry into an arguably crowded deckbuilding genre. I wasn’t sure about Thunderstone Quest going into the convention, but I left this short session feeling determined to get a play in the next night if I could. Alas, it never worked out but I was able to get enough of a feel to know that this game is destined for my collection one day. The progressing through levels of the dungeon, and moving your figure from there to the market, all makes for a more hands-on visual than most deckbuilding games. It is almost like a dungeon crawl married to a deckbuilding game, which checks two pretty nice boxes for me.

More than anything, the kindness and enthusiasm of the volunteer convinced me that I wanted to give the game a serious look. Had she not sat there and interacted with me, I might have lurked for a few minutes and moved on without any impression on the game. If you’re not sure about whether or not to back it on Kickstarter, my initial reaction is that this is definitely going to be worth picking up if you like deckbuilders. I can’t promise there are no games like it out there, but it is definitely stronger in the integration than many of the staples.

Roll for the Galaxy, Rio Grande Games

Finally, after about 90 minutes of looking for an event or a game to play, I was able to gettin on Roll for the Galaxy in the Rio Grande room.

Race for the Galaxy is a Top 10 game for me. I love everything about that game, and I know some fans of Race have been converted into bigger fans of Roll. So I have always been curious, although I knew better than to buy it before playing because of the dice. And…

It was okay. I can see the differences, and the reasons why some people might come to prefer this over the card-based version. However, it failed to impress me. The cost to chance a die to what you want it to be is often too steep, and it can be really hard to build an efficient engine because you always need to generate more money to buy dice back into your cup for usage on the next turn. I’m glad I got to play it, but it cemented Race for the Galaxy into my collection. It was possibly the biggest disappointment for me at Gen Con, although Firefly Adventures is competing for that slot.

Day Two Recap
Day Three Recap

Board Gaming · Review for Two · Worker Placement Month

Review for Two – Argent: The Consortium

Thank you for checking review #64 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.

An Overview of Argent: The Consortium


Argent: The Consortium is a game designed by Trey Chambers and was published by Level 99 Games in 2015. The box states that it can play 2-5 players and has a 60-150 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.82.

The time has come for the selection of a new Chancellor at Argent University of Magic, and you are among the likely candidates for the job. Gather your apprentices, ready your spellbook, and build your influence, while secretly discovering and competing over the votes of a limited Consortium of influential board members. Only the one who is able to fulfill the most criteria will be claim the title of most influential mage in the World of Indines!

Argent: The Consortium is a cutthroat worker-placement/engine-building game of manipulation and secrecy in which the criteria for victory are secret and the capabilities of your opponents are constantly changing. You’ll need to outwit the other candidates, use your spells at the right moment, and choose the correct apprentices to manage your plan.

Argent: The Consortium is a European-style game that minimizes luck and focuses on player interaction and strong core mechanisms that allow new strategies to emerge each time you play.

The designer keeps an updated Official Errata/Typo/FAQ thread on BGG.


Gameplay differences for 2 Players

You have 9 room tiles, set in a 3×3 square. Each player begins with 7, instead of 5, mages that they draft from the start of the game. Great Hall A and Dormitory are not able to be used. Infirmary Side B must always be used. All other aspects of the game remain the same.

Quick Take on the 2nd Edition Rules/Errata

This fixes three things that really enhances the overall experience:

  • This replaces the 1st edition mage figures/bases/flags with new pawns that have badge rings which attach to the base of a mage.
  • The first tiebreaker for a voter is a player with a Mark on that voter. If both have a mark (or neither do), the next tiebreaker is the higher Influence.
  • In a 2-player game, the 2nd Most Influence and 2nd Most Supporters voter cards are removed.

It is hard to say which is the biggest change, but I suspect many will point to the first two as being essential changes. Some might have preferred being able to win voters by blitzing the Influence and gathering as much of everything as possible, but this change allows the player who takes the time to know what is being voted on to get the edge in a close contest. The figure change, while not affecting any rules, took away one of the most disappointing aspects of the 1st edition game.

My Thoughts

 This is my kind of worker placement game, because it has some serious player interaction and it isn’t simple a points/efficiency race. Yes, there is some of that in the game, but this is a satisfying blend of euro gaming and the thematic flavors of Ameri-style gaming. And rather than feel like a game that tries and fails to cater to both crowds, this one swings and hits a home run. At least for me, and for most people I’ve played this with. It opens the door to a lot of niche gamers that might not be interested in one or the other half of that style, and could be that bridge that unifies rather than dividing those camps.


 Replay value. Those two words I like to utter a lot, and honestly there is a good reason for that. A game like A Feast for Odin, which is one of the Uwe Rosenberg big box games, is massive and impressive. However, every single game is played out in an identical fashion in terms of what you can do and how to accomplish them. The variety there comes from trying different tactics and, being creatures of habit, we tend to fall into the same routines that end with similar results. Enter Argent: The Consortium. The voter cards change every game (except for two of the 12), making the scoring conditions ever-changing. You never use all of the room tiles to construct the university board, which is great in itself, but then consider each of these tiles has an A and a B side. The magic power cards, which are tied to each of the colored mages you can use as workers, have A and B sides, making it so you can vary the powers of your workers from game to game. And each candidate board has an A and a B side, so even if you don’t choose a different one from the 6 available you’re able to change that experience based on your personal starting powers. Add in the drafting of your starting pool of mages at the start of the game and your head could be spinning from the variance available. And let’s not even mention the three decks of cards which you’re buying/recruiting from over the course of the game and how that add randomness (the only randomness to appear during the game, everything else being part of setup). You could probably play this every day for a year and end up with a different experience based on the parts and pieces for every single play.

 Adding to that experience is the potential scarcity of resources on a given setup. For instance, the last game I played there was no location allowing you to gain marks (apart from choosing to take that over drafting a supporter on the Council Chamber location. So there were very few ways to get marks outside of learning spells or taking supporters/vault cards that provided a way to get those. One of us had a lot of those, and so she had a ton of marks out. I like that there can be a scarcity, making it so you need to try varying strategies based on the layout each game.

 The rounds have player-determined ending conditions, which is a nice addition here. It has nothing to do with passing, or running out of workers. Instead, there are 3-5 Bell Tower cards and, for an action, you can take one of them. They provide things such as Influence Points, Mana, Gold, or the First Player Token, and so there is benefit to taking one of them. However, the real reason is to bring about the threat of the round ending because once that last Bell Tower card is taken, the round ends. Even if you’ve still got 2-3 mages to place, it is done. So players can all ignore them while doing action after action, or players can accelerate the end of the round to trigger the room resolutions sooner. I love this.

 Speaking of the room resolution, I also like that this is a worker placement game where most of what happens is at the end of the round. The sequence of the rooms matters, as it starts from the top and goes left-to-right then top-to-bottom (like reading a book). Something you need to consider when placing workers, as that gold you need to make a buy might not be in your possession until after that buy card activates.

 But there is consolation to be found in two places. First, if you place a worker you cannot (or choose not) to activate when the time comes, you can gain 1 Influence Point. So even if you don’t plan well, you can get something. Or if that 1 IP is essential to a future action, you can always opt for that. The other consolation comes when your mage is wounded and is sent to the Infirmary. It no longer gets to take an action, but you immediately gain either 2 gold, 1 mana, or 1 Influence Point (at least on Side A of the room…I forget Side B). So even when things go wrong, you get something. Just not necessarily what you want or need.


 The 2nd edition fixes so many small things, but they all add up to an amazingly-better experience. And that is what this review is focusing on, is that new experience. The mage minis are wonderful, and I don’t miss the old style of workers who had to snap onto a base which would get a token slotted into the back. The tiebreaker change is a welcome surprise and it makes the experience a lot better at the end of the game. If you have 1st edition, I highly recommend making the upgrade if you can. At the very least, make that one rule change. It flips the game in the right direction.

 This game can have some sharp elbows. Like, really sharp as I found out last night in our game with a friend. I had a round (Round 3) where only two of my mage workers activated spaces, one of them not on a space of my choosing due to a spell that moved them. Sure, three of them got me a small benefit in the Infirmary, but it was very small consolation by the end of that round. It tore down my efforts and put me in a massive hole to where I never fully recovered, ending with just 2 voters and one came by sheer luck. It all depends on who you play with and how they feel about dishing out the brutality. Some players will beat you down mercilessly and then continue to kick you long after you’ve been suppressed. If that is someone you play with, and you have issues with being on the receiving end of that, then you might dislike the game. But most players will walk a middle ground, doing some wounding/banishing/moving of your workers without taking it too far.

 Setup and teardown time for this game is quite a task at times. It isn’t the worst game we own for this, but with everything in this box it requires a decent amount of time. The insert that comes in the box isn’t horrible, but it definitely is a game that required bagging right away. What it desperately needs is an officially-licensed insert from a company like Meeple Realty. If one exists, I’m not aware of it. But it really, really needs to exist in order to assist with the time it takes to get onto the table and the organization when it comes back off the table.

 This thing is a beast on the table, something to be aware of. It takes far more real estate than you’d expect with all those cards, boards, pieces, etc. Especially if you have more than two at the table to play this one. So if space is a concern, be aware that you’ll need plenty of it.

 The player aids. Really, did they need to be a single box-sized thin slip of paper? Not only does it feel like it could rip easily, but this thing is huge. With a game that already will dominate most of the space on a table! Disappointing is the word to use here, as this could easily have been reduced into a smaller booklet, or at least folded in half and put on something a little thicker.


Final Thoughts


This was the first game that Mina’s Fresh Cardboard really sold me on (the second big must-buy because of her is still not in my collection, sadly), and I’ve personally been delighted with the game ever since our first play. Unfortunately, my wife was left bitter after the first two games, primarily because of the Influence Track as the tiebreaker for scoring the voters. It took nearly 18 months to convince her to try it again, this time with the 2nd edition rules/components and a 3rd player to help bring a greater feeling of balance to the table in order to make the experience more pleasing.

And that play of the game…she enjoyed the game enough to want to play more. She couldn’t remember what she hated so much about it, and that is 99% of the battle. Now there won’t be such fierce resistance to the idea of replaying the game. I think it helps that they changed the tiebreaker to giving priority to marks first.

My opinions on the game have never waned, as you saw if you paid attention to my Top 25 that was revealed in June. It is a Top 10 game for me, and would possibly be Top 5 if my wife enjoyed the game more. I’m holding out hope for her, as it took at least 15-20 plays of Kingdom Builder to finally win her over on that one to where it is among her favorite games.

This is worker placement at its finest, as it has some excellent player interaction coupled with an insane amount of replay value. Seriously, I think you could play this game a hundred times and have a hundred different setups between the candidate sheets, the university board tiles, the mage powers, and the consortium voters. Add in the swath of spells, supporter cards, and vault cards and you’re going to get some fresh experiences along the way. So if you rate your games based on longevity over time, this game will deliver in spades. This isn’t your standard worker placement fare, with predictable paths where you see who plays best in their sandbox. This game can be gritty and grueling, evoking a beautiful worker placement game.

Yet it is far from perfect. I would argue it plays best mechanically at 3-4 players, although I don’t mind the 2-player game with the revised ruling. Players who dislike having conflict and confrontation will inherently dislike some aspects of this game because it thrives on that interaction. The game also takes up a LOT of space on the table. Not quite a Firefly: The Game (with expansions) or War of the Ring level, but it is pretty sizable. The player aids are massive, being a single sheet that is the size of the box. There are five of them, but at that size they add to the immense amount of real estate this game wants to claim.

Some day I hope to get to play a 6th round epic mode of the game. I want to pick up and try the two published expansions (Summer Break and Mancers of the University), especially the latter since it adds in a new type of mage. Regardless of my wife’s perspective on the game and whether or not it eventually changes to where the enjoys the game, it is one I am going remain happy about having in my collection. Even if it only comes out 1-2 times a year to be played with the right group.


Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Argent: The Consortium. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon:

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